Bush spent 90 minutes at the State Department yesterday listening to recommendations from his senior foreign policy advisers.
Bush emerged from the meeting accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney. The president made a few brief remarks to reporters about the meeting, but didn't offer specifics on what recommendations were made.
Achieving Success Rather Than Victory
"I appreciate the advice I got from those folks in the field, and that advice is an important part, an important component, of putting a new way forward in Iraq," Bush said. "Like most Americans, this administration wants to succeed in Iraq because we understand success in Iraq will help protect the United States in the long run."
Bush has been under pressure to change his Iraq strategy since last month's elections, in which his Republican Party lost its majority in both houses of Congress. The vote has been widely seen as a repudiation of his conduct of the war.
Last week, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended a broad shift away from a military solution, recommending instead a diplomatic course. One of the co-chairs of the group, Republican former Secretary of State James Baker, said U.S. strategy should emphasize achieving success, not victory.
Part of that diplomatic offensive would include efforts to hold direct talks with Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Syria, something Bush has so far rejected. His comments since the release of the Iraq Study Group report indicate no change of heart.
Still, Bush said he is interested in finding ways for countries in the region to help Iraq flourish.
"We also talked about the neighborhood, the countries that surround Iraq, and the responsibilities that they have to help this young Iraqi democracy survive," he said. "We believe that most of the countries understand that a mainstream society, a society that is a functioning democracy, is in their interests."
A Regional Approach
Already, the Iraqi government has made overtures to its neighbors, including both Iran and Syria. Bush said he welcomed Baghdad's effort to "take the lead" in regional diplomacy and begin developing its own foreign policy.
Bush has said he will give a speech on the direction of his Iraq strategy sometime before the end of December, after he hears recommendations from all quarters. He said it will be important for him to coordinate all that he hears before he makes up his mind.
"I am looking forward to continuing my deliberations with the military" Bush said. "There is no question we've got to make sure that the State Department and Defense Department -- the efforts and their recommendations -- are closely coordinated, so that when I do speak to the American people, they will know that I've listened to all aspects of government and that the way forward is a way forward to achieve our objective -- to succeed in Iraq."
The next phase of Bush's strategy sessions will occur on Tuesday. U.S. military commanders in Iraq, along with the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, will meet with Bush via videoconference to give their recommendations. Later that same day, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi will visit Bush at the White House to discuss the same subject.
On December 13, Bush will meet with U.S. Defense Department officials at the Pentagon to hear their proposals.